With job creation the ultimate goal, a public-private partnership unveiled Wednesday will bring new help to start-ups and small businesses in Delaware County by way of a tool more prevalent in cities.
The Delaware County Edge Accelerator will offer free incubator services to qualifying small businesses for up to 36 months, on the condition they remain in the county three years after completing the program.
Those who don't "must give us the money back," said Patrick Killian, director of the Delaware County Commerce Center. He estimated the cost per company at $350 a month.
That covers each business' use of HeadRoom LLC, itself a start-up operating two coworking spaces in the county, in Media and Wayne. Edge Accelerator companies will have full access to HeadRoom's offices, business counseling and administrative-support services, and workshops.
In addition, Edge Accelerator companies will receive counseling and training from Chester & Delaware County SCORE, which provides business professionals and retirees as mentors.
"We know that Delaware County small businesses are a vital part of our economy, and their success is essential to the economic growth and prosperity of our county," County Councilman John McBlain said in announcing the Edge Accelerator partnership at HeadRoom's Media offices.
He was flanked by three members of the council, Killian, two managing partners of HeadRoom, the president of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, and a representative of SCORE.
Aspirations were high.
"We look forward to perhaps coming up with the next Microsoft somewhere out of Delaware County," Killian said.
Applications are being accepted now at www.delcopa.org/accelerator. The first deadline for admission is Dec. 1, with six companies expected to be selected.
Another group will be chosen in March. Each round of new entrants needs to be kept small to accommodate the kind of one-on-one oversight that HeadRoom and SCORE plan, organizers said. Companies will be required to meet certain business-plan milestones to remain in the program.
McBlain said the county's 10-year economic-development strategy, prepared in 2014, envisioned some type of small-business development tool such as an incubator. But going it alone was cost-prohibitive, he said, praising HeadRoom and SCORE's willingness to help.
The county's initial financial commitment is a maximum of $50,000 in grants from the Redevelopment Authority.
"We always wanted to make a difference in the community; this is just another way of enabling that and building momentum," said John Tooher, cofounder of HeadRoom with Dan Leivens.
HeadRoom clients were an enthusiastic audience at Wednesday's announcement.
"There is a dearth of accelerator, incubator, and coworking spaces in the suburbs," said Ellen Thompson, 48, founder of Results Repeat, a 21/2-year-old digital marketing agency that joined HeadRoom with five employees and now has 12, serving 150 customers.
"If we can help people avoid making mistakes," she said, "it just helps people get successful more quickly."